Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Minutemen's month

When I pulled up to "Camp LeBas" -- the rural acreage the Minutemen are using for headquarters this month in their operations on the Washington-British Columbia border -- the first time Saturday, I was struck with a brief sense of deja vu, since the setting had the look of the Montana Freemen compound in miniature: the rough edges; the clusters of cars, RVs, and trailers; the flags and signs.

The Freemen place was more spread out, by far; the Minutemen have several neighbors right across the road and others just above and below them on the hill, while the Freemen's nearest neighbors were not even visible from the place. Still, the look of the place reminded me not just of the Clark ranch in Jordan but a dozen other "Patriot" properties I visited in the 1990s, from Cal Greenup's to Bo Gritz's: slightly chaotic, slightly grubby, but strategically situated.

I especially took note of the flags, since one of them -- a "Don't Tread on Me" Revolutionary War flag -- was identical to one that John Trochmann used to sell through the Militia of Montana, while the second flag was a military one:

As I took the photos from the roadway on Sunday, a Minuteman official -- Gary Cole, the Minutemen's former national director of operations, who you can see standing just outside the trailer, checking me out, in the top photo -- came out to greet me. I pulled in the driveway and got out to talk.

I wound up chatting with Cole, a glib and pleasant man, for a good 45 minutes, during which time he more or less regaled me with a presentation about the Minutemen he'd obviously given a number of other times. He continually emphasized that the organization's prime concern was with border-control issues.

Cole admitted to me that a border watch on the Canadian border wasn't really going to be about catching illegal aliens as they attempted to cross surreptitiously. What the Minutemen were about, he said, was "making a statement."

It was also clear that "making a statement" entailed attracting as much media attention as possible, which meant that they were far more media-friendly than the militias and Freemen ever were. They were quite successful, too; there were Seattle TV news stations there, and a variety of newspapermen too. They kept track of how many reporters they'd talked with that weekend, and they carefully tailored their talk for the cameras and tape recorders.

After I finished chatting with Cole, I talked for awhile with Tom Williams, leader of the Bellingham Minuteman contingent, inside the outfit's operations center, which was located inside the smallish equipment shed. Coffee and doughnuts were spread out on a table, and a map showing the border watch locations was spread across a wall.

Williams, who was involved with last April's Minuteman Project in Arizona (he says he was charged with weeding out white supremacists) is a pleasant and straightforward-seeming fellow. He was even more insistent about emphasizing border-security issues, and was likewise adamant that he had nothing against Latino immigrants.

For all the resemblance they bore to the Patriots on the outside, inside the Minutemen's compound things were remarkably different. There was none of the paranoia and anger that hung in the air like a fetid smell at Patriot compounds. It was jovial, friendly, and seemingly well organized.

That same feeling prevailed when I talked with the Minuteman volunteers. One of them, a retiree named Larry Pullar who lived in the nearby town of Custer, manned one of the outposts next to the Canadian border where, it was apparent, someone could just walk across a grassy ditchway between two roadways to cross the border.

Pullar was clear that what drove him to join the Minutemen was his concern about the lack of border security, especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He said he has nothing against Latino immigrants and is not concerned about them.

I asked Pullar about the Minuteman leadership and their national advocates, who do emphasize those issues. He said he hadn't paid any attention to them; he was in this to push for more secure borders. He seemed sincere.

The Minutemen had attracted about some 22 border-watch volunteers, and a number of support people, to the camp for the weekend, most of them from the region. Most of them were like Pullar. Indeed, it was remarkable that, in all of my discussions that weekend, the only person who was interested in talking about Latino immigration was Gary Cole -- who, as it happened, was all too happy to expound on the notion that illegal Mexican immigrants constituted an "invasion" of America.

It was clear that they were all "on message," that is, to keep emphasizing border-security issues, because those enabled them to steer clear of the rising charges of racism. And indeed, if that was all that the Minutemen were really about, they might have some legitimate points to make (even if their concerns might be overstated).

But you don't have to look far to see that the border-security issue is more of a ruse than a reality. Because from the very top, the advocacy for the Minutemen has come from quarters where the primary concern is about the supposed evils of illegal Latino immigration.

This begins with national organizations like VDare and American Patrol, who concocted the Minuteman idea as an adaptation of the old white-supremacist and militia tactic of border militias. And it continues right down to the state level, where Minuteman supporters are proposing draconian measures aimed at eliminating health care and emergency services to illegal aliens:
Washington voters may be asked to decide in November whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to receive public benefits.

Bob Baker, a Mercer Island resident who heads a group called Protect Washington Now, has filed an initiative to force the state to deny illegal immigrants benefits like those in a handful of programs administered by the Department of Social and Health Services.

Baker volunteers with the Minuteman Project, which got its start in Arizona two years ago to spot and report illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico.

This reality belies the Minutemen's savvy public-relations efforts, and is the real reason for an opposition campaign that likewise has formed in Whatcom County:
"The reason this has escalated to such a national level is because of groups like the Minutemen project that are out there causing fear, pain, and frankly pushing people to the limits," said Rosalinda Guillen, director of the Aguila Del Norte Legal Observer Program for the Coalition for Professional Law and Border Enforcement.

The Aguila Del Norte legal observers are there because "we've been getting second-, third-, fourth-hand information from the sheriff, the media. We want to get the information ourselves," she said.

The program will monitor Minutemen, watching for aggressive or harassing tactics that target Latinos. She said that four to six observers visited Minutemen border sites over the weekend.

"We still believe this is an extremist group, it's racially motivated," Guillen said.

Guillen is far from alone in this belief, and it's certainly a well-founded one. Juan Santos at Dissident Voice recently explored the way the Minutemen are reviving old-style nativism, and how the recent pro-immigrant rallies have been the first wave of opposition to them:
Minutemen co-leader Chris Simcox would have us believe that "we need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them [migrants] up. They are hard-core criminals. They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters and they are evil people."

The temptation, of course, is to dismiss these people as mere crackpots. The problem with that analysis however is clear. These people have power. They've dominated and defined the debate on immigration for the past year, at least until this past weekend, when well over a million -- even two million people -- marched in opposition to their xenophobic and persecutorial dementia.

Southern California activists have seen that racist dementia up close, time and again, as we confronted the Minutemen and their allies in an effort to keep things from ever getting this far.

We saw it in the eyes of breakaway Minuteman leader James Chase in the darkness of the southern desert at midnight, he armed with a shotgun, we with nothing but our bare hearts.

We saw it in the eyes of Minuteman supporter Hal Netkin as he slammed his car into a crowd of mostly Chicano protestors as Jim Gilchrist addressed the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. Gilchrist joined the Coalition, which has been identified as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Painted as American a hero by the likes of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gilchrist has been accused by a former campaign volunteer of integrating Nazi activists into his campaign for Congress. He lost the special election, despite his endorsement by Sensenbrenner ally Tancredo.

But he put fear into Republican politicians -- fear that incumbents would face vote draining, immigrant bashing third party candidates in November if they didn't take a ard right line against migrants. They feared Gilchrist sympathizers like the rightist California group Save Our State, which has regularly drawn organized Nazis to their protests, and which uses the exact rhetoric used by open white nationalists and supremacists, such as calling Mexican culture a "cesspool".

The corporate media, informed time and again of Nazi, white nationalist and militia connections to the anti-migrant movement, has continued to paint the anti-migrants as part of a mainstream. Gilchrist himself has claimed he has "240 million" supporters, despite the fact that the anti-immigrant movement as a whole could field only 700 activists for its "National Day of Protest" this year. They were outnumbered 10 to 1 wherever they turned across the country.

Even so, Tancredo, Sensenbrenner and the extreme, racist right wing elements they represent were on the verge of a major legislative victory. They were so close they could taste it.

Until Sunday.

Nonetheless, the Minutemen are claiming that that the rallies have actually stirred a backlash that will bolster their support:
Within 48 hours of the 20,000-strong march in Phoenix, the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps signed up about 300 new volunteers for patrols along the U.S.-Mexican border, said Chris Simcox, the organization's leader.

Today, volunteers plan to kick off a monthlong border watch in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas and report undocumented immigrants to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Simcox said the pro-immigrant rallies "really went a long way to awaken the sleeping giant in America."

"People are just astounded," he said. "They had no idea about the number of illegals in the country."

Nationally, major organizations that push for tighter immigration controls have been flooded with sometimes-alarming phone calls from people upset about the mass demonstrations that brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters, some waving the Mexican flag, into the streets of Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago.

... Susan Tully, national field director for the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates reducing illegal immigration, said her office has been "overwhelmed" with phone calls from frustrated people looking for a way to get involved in a counterprotest.

Tully said she has been alarmed by some of the calls and urged restraint and caution.

"I can tell you the frustration you can hear in their voices and the outrage. It's pretty scary," she said.

"I really think the best way for the American public to oppose this guest-worker plan at this point is to continue to make phone calls, faxes, write and go visit U.S. senators and representatives rather than taking to the streets."

She also worried about how pro-immigrant demonstrators are interacting with members of FAIR and other anti-illegal immigration organizations.

"I promise you if we announced tomorrow that we were going to have a march in Los Angeles or Phoenix, the other side would be out there to confront them, and it could get really ugly," Tully said.

It certainly looks that way, especially considering the kind of fresh support that the "backlash" seems to be producing. Check, for instance, the White Revolution Web site, where the posts all prominently play up those Mexican flags and, moreover a plan for "Anti-Invasion Day" events across America on April 10:
Will you just sit idly by on this historic day and allow the mestizo hordes to claim America as theirs? Then stand with us, for Race and Nation and let's Take America Back Now!

April 10th: Anti-Invasion Day

Bush calls for civil debate ...

Illegal immigrants push for civil war ...

White Revolution calls for nationwide patriotic display on April 10th!

Tens of thousands of illegal invaders and their treasonous collaborators are calling for a national "Day of Action" on Monday, April 10th, to support illegal immigration.

In response, White Revolution is calling for a national day of patriotic expression against illegal immigration on the same day.

You can wear an American flag t-shirt or baseball cap. A lapel pin, or tie. A red, white, and blue ribbon. Even an American flag sticker. There are many ways that you can show your support for this great country our ancestors built with their sweat and blood. Wherever you are, whatever you will be doing, stand with us on April 10th, to demonstrate against illegal immigration and the invasion of our nation.

Mark your calendars, now! April 10th: red, white, blue, and you!

I believe people like Larry Pullar and Tom Williams are sincere about not wanting to be associated with this kind of element, and not just because it makes them look bad. As with the militia movement in the 1990s, the Minutemen's success has been predicated on its ability to draw in people from mainstream America, largely by disguising their larger agenda and promoting themselves in a way that appeals to mainstream concerns (in this case, about keeping our borders secure).

But they seem not to stop and question why it is that their organization actually attracts neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and various ill-disguised hate groups whose existence is predicated on scapegoating racial minorities. If they did, the answer would be a simple one: Whatever concern the Minuteman leadership might actually have regarding border security is inextricably bound up with their belief that Latino immigrants are harming American culture.

In the end, the Minuteman vision of "border security" is just a pretext for "keeping the Latinos out." The Minutemen attract these elements because their agenda is only a vague reformulation of a major component of the traditional white-supremacist program for America.

They're not fooling the racists. They're only fooling their mainstream recruits -- and a blinkered press.

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